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4 Facts About Fat and Springing into Shape

My Fitness World: 4 Facts About Fat and Springing into Shape

Monday, March 28

4 Facts About Fat and Springing into Shape

woman looking in morror
We always talk about how we want to lose weight. But that's not really what we mean. When we talk about losing weight, we're really talking about losing fat, getting rid of the spare tire, turning the keg into a six-pack. It's about more than getting ready for swimsuit season or squeezing back into your "skinny" jeans, though. More importantly, it's about having a healthy amount of body fat so we don't put ourselves at risk for myriad diseases. After all, our bodies need some fat. Fat is responsible for regulating our body temperature. It insulates our vital organs. It stores energy our bodies draw on to function. Not to mention everyone wants a few strategically placed curves and you can't get them with just bone and muscle. So what exactly is a healthy amount of body fat?

  1. What is body fat percentage? It's simple enough. It's the amount of adipose tissue (body fat) we carry compared to our weight. A 160-pound person who is carrying 32 pounds of fat would be said to have 20 percent body fat. We all want to be working toward an ideal body fat percentage, staying within a range where we carry enough fat to feel and look healthy, but not so much that we develop the health issues associated with obesity, including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. So what are the ideal ranges, and what are the best ways to get rid of unwanted excess adipose tissue, aka body fat?

    Most organizations classify a healthy body fat percentage as 20 to 25 percent for women and 8 to 15 percent for men. Women who have more than 30 percent body fat and men with more than 25 percent are generally classified as obese. There can be some variations that are still considered healthy. Athletes will tend to have less body fat, for example; however, below a certain point, low body fat can be as dangerous as high body fat.

    There are various ways to calculate body fat percentage, with varying degrees of accuracy and expense. Many clinics offer what they describe as the only, truly accurate readings, derived from water displacement, ultrasonic, or X-ray tests. Much simpler than that are many home body fat scales. While simple, they are fairly inaccurate. The best home device is an inexpensive and simple test using skinfold calipers. These calipers measure folds of skin at various parts of the body and provide an estimate of body fat percentage based on those measurements.

    Inaccurate or not, most trainers recommend using some sort of body fat calculation in addition to being weighed on a scale. For most of us, though, true accuracy isn't that important, just as long as we're sure our body fat percentages are going down. We can starve ourselves and lose weight to reach that goal, but a lot of that loss will be muscle loss and won't give us the healthy look or feeling most of us seek.
  2. Muscle burns fat. One reason we want to be cognizant of our body fat loss, as opposed to mere weight loss, is because muscles burn calories, and if we lose muscle, it will make burning calories—and, by extension, fat—much more difficult. Because the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn—even when you're resting! So it's important to follow an exercise program that combines resistance activities, like weight lifting, that build muscle with aerobic cardio activities that burn calories. 

    The really good news is that when you exercise, your body begins turning stored fat into glucose for fuel before it begins breaking down muscle for fuel. This is why high-level athletes can eat so much and still stay sleek. Take Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps's 12,000-calorie-a-day training diet, for example. Because he has such a low percentage of body fat, he has to provide his body with enough fuel or his body will begin breaking down the proteins in his muscle, since it's pretty much out of body fat to use for fuel. During newsletter chats and on the Message Boards, P90X graduates often complain of an ammonia-like smell after working out. That smell is indicative of the protein breakdown that occurs when their elite new low-fat bodies have begun tapping into muscle for fuel. It generally means they need to start eating more to make it through the workouts—a problem most of us would love to have! Most of us aren't dealing with the problems of elite athletes trying to get enough fuel, though; we're just trying to get our bodies to approach that kind of shape.

    One popular exercise myth is that if we're trying to lose body fat, we should just do lots of cardio and sweat and burn fat, then build muscle later. That's a sort of "lose weight now, get in shape later" approach. There's some truth there. The more we exercise, the more calories we expend and the sooner our bodies tap into our fat stores for energy. But by building up muscle, in addition to doing cardio activity, we can burn a lot more calories, even while we're at rest, and maximize the calorie burn during cardio. Plus, when the stored fat begins to melt off, there will be lean, sexy muscle in its place.
  3. How diet affects body-fat composition. Something we've discussed before is the myth that dietary fat contributes to body fat. This is only half true. The fact is that body fat, or adipose tissue, comes from stored calories. Your body fat doesn't care whether the calories come from fat, protein, or carbs. Don't believe me? Try drinking a six-pack of fat-free beer every day—you'll have a pony keg under your shirt in no time. The "beer belly" comes by its name honestly, and beer doesn't have a gram of fat in it. Neither does soda, and it's one of the main culprits behind the obesity crisis.

    Fat does have more calories per gram than either carbohydrates or protein do, so it's wise to monitor the amount of fat in your diet, but if it's healthy fat, like the kind found in avocados, olive oil, fish, or nuts, there's no reason to exclude it from your diet. It's wise to avoid saturated and trans fats, but that has more to do with lipids in your blood, not the composition of adipose tissue.
  4. Can you target areas where you want to burn body fat? There's a French proverb that says that sooner or later, every woman must choose between her face and her bottom. What this means is that it's a myth that you can target one area of your body over another for fat loss. While we may mainly want to get rid of our guts or slim down our thighs, our bodies are largely democratic about where they take stored fat from—they take it from all over.

    If you've seen Madonna lately, you can see the results of her latest workout regimen. She has incredibly low body fat, but her face has lost its fat as well, making her bone structure appear more prominent, with a more sunken appearance (although it looks like some cosmetic procedures may have helped her fill it out somewhat). So if you ever see advertising for any product that claims to burn fat off one part of your body and not others, it's over-promising. You can target specific muscle groups with exercise, but fat burning is a more generalized proposition.

Any activity will go a long way toward reducing body fat percentage. And health professionals advise that even a modest decrease in body fat percentage will have extraordinary health benefits. So even if achieving that ideal "supermodel" weight seems impossible, you can really enhance your quality of life by making a few minor changes in your activity level and diet.
So lets Spring Into Shape

Peel Back the Layers

"Springtime makes it easy to work out. When you know that you aren't going to be wearing bulky and concealing clothes much longer, it gives you plenty of inspiration to get going!" —Kelli W., West Virginia

Do it: Goodbye, sweatpants; hello, jogging shorts! You can run but you can't hide from (or in) revealing warm weather workout gear—and that's a good thing, says celebrity personal trainer and food coach Kathy Kaehler (she works with Julia Roberts and Kim Basinger). "As warmer weather approaches, breaking out your summer lineup can motivate you to commit to exercise on a daily basis."

Boost it: If the tank top that fit you in the fall is feeling a little snug, Kaehler encourages you to squeeze in and bear it: It's all too easy to revert to stretchy pants or a loose top. "Get used to that too-tight feeling and use it as motivation to hit the gym and watch what you eat," Kaehler says. Once you're back in spring shape, reward yourself with some new figure-flattering pieces, like tanks with supportive panels along the torso or molded bra cups, or pants with rear-shaping technology.

Just Show Up

Do it: Woody Allen once said, "Half of life is showing up." Motherboard Mom Debbie C. has figured out that getting herself on the treadmill or to the gym is half the battle. Once there, she's more likely to work out than waste her time, energy, and money by doing nothing. And once she does start exercising, it kicks up her endorphins as well as her competitive edge, paving the way to fabulous results.
Boost it: Arm yourself with an amped-up playlist. Songs with between 120 and 140 beats-per-minute, or BPM, can get you working harder and longer, while distracting you from any discomfort. Try Push It by Salt-N-Pepa, Drop It Like It's Hot by Snoop Dogg, the dance remix of Umbrella by Rihanna, or (flashback!) The Heat Is On by Glenn Frey. "Tell yourself, 'I'm going to do two songs,'" trainer Kaehler suggests. "With your favorite songs, you'll be doing two miles in no time.

Take A Good, Hard Look

Do it: "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, am I delusional, feeling thin and tall?" There's nothing more honest than your own reflection to show you where you are on the path to fitness. "Many times, we keep thinking our bodies are who we used to be—more athletic, slimmer, our high-school bodies," says NBC 5 fitness expert Andrea Metcalf, author of Naked Fitness. "But when we look in the mirror, we reconnect to the reality of the body staring back at us, begging us to do something."

Boost it: Rather than dwell on the negative, jot down a happy thought about your body and soul, like, "You are woman, inside and out" or "You're strong and capable," and post it to your mirror. "Positive affirmations halt and remove the common need to feel 'perfect,'" says Caitlin Boyle, founder of and author of Operation Beautiful: Transforming the Way You See Yourself One Post-it Note at a Time. Overly negative thinking about your body will just crush your spirits and make you feel as if you're not worth the time or effort required for healthy living.

Rise....and Shine

Do it: Early birds are more likely to stick to their workout routines than people who wait until the evenings, Metcalf says. More a.m. benefits: You'll jump-start your metabolism and start the day with a sense of accomplishment, and you'll sleep better. In fact, a study published in the journal Sleep showed that overweight or obese women who exercised in the morning slept better than those who worked out at night.

Boost it: Adopt a dog! You'll be forced to wake up early and take a walk, and you can vary your tempo or tackle hills to challenge both of you. Dog owners who regularly walk their four-legged friends are less likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or depression than non-dog owners. High-energy dogs will do the best on long walks: Consider adopting a border collie, Labrador retriever, Jack Russell terrier, or dalmatian.

Walk This Way...

Do it: Not many things in life are easy, free, and effective. But walking is! As the American Heart Association's preferred method of exercise, walking a mile "not only challenges the cardiovascular system, but is as effective as running a mile but with less impact on the body," says fitness pro Metcalf. Besides burning calories as you make your way from home to work to lunch, regular walking helps lower cholesterol, strengthen bones, and lessen the risk of type 2 diabetes. So that's why 61 percent of Motherboard Moms say that walking is their favorite spring activity!

Boost it: Try adding an upper-body move, like waist rotations (raise your elbows to shoulder height to engage abs and strengthen delts), or alternate between walking forward, sideways, and backwards—just not in traffic! Or listen to your favorite podcast or a book on tape.

woman and daughter yoga Monkey See...Monkey Do!
Do it: Considering our nation's dismal childhood obesity statistics—about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese—any chance to do something active with a little one is beneficial. And when you work out, you're modeling a smart lifelong habit for the next generation while ensuring you'll be around to watch them grow up.

Boost it: Take the mother-daughter bonding out of the house: Mixing up the settings and trying something different will prevent boredom. You can have wheelbarrow races in the backyard or play hopscotch. Volunteer to coach her softball or soccer team. If you're the daughter in this scenario, convince your mom to try something new: Theresa Hill, 27, of Chicago, kept gushing about how much she was enjoying her triathlon training and how "anyone can do it" until her mom—who is 55—eventually said, "Hey, maybe I should try." The two now swim, run, and bike together when possible in preparation for their sprint triathlon in the fall.

Book It!

Do it: You wouldn't blow off dinner with your BFF to watch The Bachelor, would you? Of course not, because you two made a date weeks ago and wrote it down in your calendars. Doing the same for your workouts is effective because it holds you accountable, explains Nikki Kimbrough, a Gold's Gym fitness expert and personal trainer based in New York City. And variety keeps you motivated to continue booking appointments. "Once you start to get bored, even subconsciously, you'll start to make excuses to not exercise."

Boost it: Keep mixing things up with cardio, weight lifting, stretching, and classes. Maybe try Zumba on Monday, a yogalates class Tuesday, circuit training Wednesday, running with a girlfriend Thursday, and lap swimming Friday. Not only will your motivation remain high, but your body will show faster results.

~By Joe Wilkes
You've Got A Friend...

women walkingDo it: When it comes to working out, you'll get by with a little help from your friends. According to Metcalf, people who have strong social support for their weight-loss goals have an 80 percent chance of success, versus just 10 percent for those on their own. "Buddy systems and putting your money where your mouth is will give you a better success opportunity than going it alone," she says.

Boost it: Up the fun factor and plan an "exercise date" to the park. Play tag, monkey around the jungle gym, or race each other around the baseball diamond. You can even challenge more friends to join you for a group workout, then head out for a healthful brunch afterwards as your reward.

Dress For Success..

Do it:When you've completed one step of the process—getting dressed—it makes the second step—doing it!—that much easier.

Boost it: Stash a pair of running shoes or cross-trainers and a fresh workout outfit in your car and by your bed. They'll serve as a constant reminder of your goals and will eliminate the ever-so-common "But I don't have my stuff!" excuse.

Just Kidding Around..

Do it: New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women who cobble together 150 minutes of weekly activity—including basketball, running, brisk walking, or, yes, housework—tend to be six pounds lighter than their less-active counterparts over a 20-year span.

Boost it: Incinerate more calories by setting a timer and doing traditional chores like making the bed or picking up clothes at a timed pace. Metcalf says that at a quick clip, you can burn 100 calories by sweeping for 22 minutes, raking leaves for 20 minutes, playing vigorously with your kids (think tag or dancing) for 22 minutes, or doing general housecleaning for 30 minutes.

Get Cometitive

Do it: Attention, mouse potatoes: A new study in Preventive Medicine suggests that sitting at your desk all day adds extra pounds around your waist—the worst place for them to accumulate, healthwise. Staging a contest taps into your innate competitive spirit, keeping you motivated and focused on the end goal. Because nobody wants to finish last, you're more likely to hit the gym regularly and watch your nutrition, Kimbrough says. And like Motherboard reader Heather L., even if you don't lose the most pounds, you'll still win!

Boost it: Bring a healthful meal and snacks from home to avoid getting derailed by the coffee cake and donuts that seem to magically appear within 10 feet of your cubicle every day. Pack a lunch that combines lean protein, carbs, and a little fat, like a salad with 4 to 5 ounces of grilled chicken or tuna and as many green veggies (spinach, broccoli, cucumbers, peppers) as you like, or a whole-wheat tortilla filled with a few tablespoons of hummus, spinach, sliced tomatoes, feta cheese, and black olives. For a snack, try low-fat Greek yogurt, a handful of almonds and dried cranberries, or two hard-boiled eggs.

My Fitness World Zumba Instructor



At March 29, 2011 at 6:34 AM , Blogger Heather said...

Nice to meet you from the blog hop. Very informative post. I was very disapointed with my fat percentage when I got it tested. I am a triathlete and I thought it would be lower. Oh well. All I can do is carry on!!

At March 29, 2011 at 6:48 AM , Blogger LifeBelowZero said...

I blogged it forward
Happy to be a new follower from the hop.
Life Below Zero

At March 29, 2011 at 7:42 AM , Blogger Momma Teri said...

Visiting from Good Friends Just Click. Thank you for joining and I hope to see you back at Mom to Bed by 8 soon!

At March 29, 2011 at 9:45 AM , Blogger ♥Yaya's Mommy ♥ said...

I am your newest follower from FMBT
Have a great week.

At March 30, 2011 at 5:20 AM , Blogger Debbie said...

Hi, I’m from Edge of Escape . I’m following the week long blog hop that you linked to. I am quite interested by your unique blog. Very cool. These fitness posts are amazing and quite informative. I don't care for exercise but I love badminton, tennis, hiking and swimming - got to have some fun! Please stop by my blog, I’d love to have you follow me.

At March 30, 2011 at 7:53 PM , Blogger Katrina @ They All Call Me Mom said...

I think I was divinely lead to your blog, LOL.

I am a 41 year old mother of nine. Yes, nine. And my youngest child is nearly 3 years old, and I cannot shake the "baby weight" from that pregnancy. I can blame my metabolism change (I hear that happens when you hit your 40's) but truth be told, I eat like I always have (read that: anything I want, any amount I feel like) and do not exercise much at all. So I am 174 pounds and 5'9" -- because I'm tall, I can get away with it better than say a 5-2" person, and everyone says I "look great!!" but then they add, "...for having 9 kids"

Haha -- not really a compliment when they add that last part!

I know I don't look great. Being tall can HIDE it a bit, but really...I don't feel my best nor do I look my best. I would like to lose 30 pounds.

I am not very...oh, what's the word...disciplined. Yep, that's the word. If there is cake in the house, I will eat some. Someone brings home a box of Sweetarts candy? I eat some. I have never had to watch my weight before, so saying NO to something that I like and want to eat is something that I am not practiced at.

Hopefully your blog can motivate me! I saw your link on The Middle Matters blog hop...and I'm your newest follower :) Happy Wednesday!


At March 31, 2011 at 10:20 AM , Blogger Callie said...

Have been on a weight loss journey since January and am really enjoying my time at the gym and the feeling of too big pants. Your info about fat is so very helpful--I've read it before, but I find that reading it again and again (from different sources and in different voices) is so helpful. Right now I'm on a sculpt/kickboxing kick and loving it.

Found you through the get wired wednesday blog hop. Check out my blog if you have a chance (blogging about happiness, decorating, fashion, books, and other things that make me smile--all from the viewpoint of a hopefully-soon-to-be-engaged, southern, babygovernmentlawyer)


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